The night angel trilogy, p.40
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       The Night Angel Trilogy, p.40
 

           Brent Weeks

  “We hold this door. Agon doesn’t go upstairs,” Roth said. “The prince and princess are next.” He checked his crossbow.

  Logan sat on the edge of the bed, waiting. He closed his eyes and rubbed his temples. He was, for the moment, alone in the bedchamber at the top of the north tower. Jenine Gunder—no, Jenine Gyre—had left him to get ready.

  To get ready.

  Logan felt ill. He’d fantasized about lovemaking, of course, but he’d done his best to confine his desires to one woman—and that woman wasn’t Jenine.

  When Serah had accepted his proposal, he’d thought his fantasies were going to come true. They’d been planning their wedding just this morning.

  Now this.

  He heard the soft scuff of bare feet on rug and looked up. Jenine’s hair was down, curling luxuriantly halfway down her back. She wore a silky, translucent white gown and an anxious smile. She was breathtaking. Every hint her evening gown had given last night—gods! was that only last night?—was fulfilled, every sensuous promise exceeded. Logan’s eyes drank in her curves, her hips sweeping to a narrow waist, waist swelling to those perfect breasts, curve yielding to curve with the sweetness that inspired art. He feasted on the gold of her skin in the candlelight, the darker circles of her nipples showing faintly through her gown, the flutter of her pulse at her throat, the bashfulness in her stance. He wanted her. He wanted to take her. Lust roared through him, dimming the rest of the room, swallowing all the world except the beauty before him and his thoughts of what he was about to do.

  He looked away. Ashamed. A lump swelled in his throat and cut off his breath.

  “Am I so ugly?” she asked.

  He looked up and saw her arms crossed over her breasts, instant tears in her eyes. Pained, he looked away again.

  “No. No, my lady. Please, come here.”

  She didn’t move. It wasn’t enough.

  Logan met her eyes. “Please. You’re so pretty, so, so beautiful you bewilder me. You make me ache. Come sit with me. Please.”

  Jenine sat next to him on the bed, close, but not touching him. Logan had known little about her before today. Even his father had considered her too rich a match for him. He only knew that she was well-liked, “sunny,” “settling down,” and not yet sixteen. Logan could understand “sunny.” She’d practically glowed at dinner—until her father had spoken. The bastard. Logan understood now a little of how his father must have felt, seeing the woman he loved married to that.

  The term “settling down” had been applied to Jenine’s brother, too. For the prince, it had meant that people thought he was finally leaving off his more obvious wenching and starting to assume some of the responsibilities of ruling. But Logan imagined that for Jenine, “settling down” probably meant she didn’t play tag in the castle anymore.

  She was so different from Serah—and she was his wife.

  “I’m—I was engaged to another woman this morning. A woman I loved for years… I still love her, Jenine. Can I call you that?”

  “You may call me whatever pleases you, my lord husband.” Her voice was chilly. He’d hurt her. She was hurt, and for all the wrong reasons. Damn, she was young. But then, he hadn’t been the only one who’d been handed a lot of surprises in the last day.

  “Have you ever been in love, Jenine?”

  She considered his question with more gravity than he would have expected from a fifteen-year-old. “I’ve… liked boys.”

  “It’s not the same,” Logan snapped. He regretted his tone instantly.

  “Are you going to cheat on me?” She shot right back. “With her?”

  It hit Logan between the eyes. This couldn’t be easy for Jenine, either. How must she feel, liking him, marrying him, knowing he was in love with someone else? Logan put his face in his hands. “I swore our wedding vows because the king asked me to, because the nation needed it. But I swore those vows, Jenine. I will be faithful to you. I will do my duty.”

  “And your duty to produce an heir?” she asked.

  The chill hadn’t thawed at all. He should have known better, but he answered. “Yes.”

  She flopped on the bed, pulled her gown up roughly, and spread her legs. “Your duty awaits, my lord,” she said, turning her face away, staring at the wall.

  “Jenine—look at me!” He covered her nakedness and—thank the gods—looked only at her face as he spoke, though even now her body cried out to him. It made him feel like an animal. “Jenine, I will be as good a husband as I can. But I can’t give you my heart. Not yet. I look at you and, and I feel wrong for wanting to make love to you. But you’re my wife! Dammit, it would be easier if you weren’t so—so damn beautiful! If I could just look at you without wanting to—to do what we’re supposed to do tonight. Do you understand?”

  She obviously didn’t, but she sat back up and folded her legs under her. Abruptly she was a girl again, blushing for what she’d just done, but her eyes intent.

  Logan threw his hands up. “I don’t blame you. I don’t understand it myself. It’s all so twisted up. Nothing makes sense since Aleine—”

  “Please, don’t talk about my brother tonight. Please?”

  “I’ve lost everything. Everything’s… everything’s wrong.” How could he be so selfish? He’d lost a friend, but she’d lost her big brother. She must be aching, too. “I’m sorry,” he said.

  “No. I’m sorry,” Jenine said, her eyes teary but her gaze steady. “I’ve known for my whole life that I’d be married to whomever the country needed me to marry. I’ve tried not to even have crushes because I knew that my father might tell me any day that he needed me. I’ve been trying not to like you for two years. I know you think I’m a silly girl, but do you know who some of my potential husbands were? A Ceuran prince who likes boys, another who’s sixty, an Alitaeran who’s six, a Lodricari who doesn’t speak our language and already has two wives, Khalidorans who treat their women as chattel, and a Modaini who’s been twice widowed under suspicious circumstances.

  “Then there was you. Everyone likes you. A good king would have made the match to heal the split between our families, but my father hates you. So I had to watch you, hear stories about you from my brother and from all the other girls, hear that you’re brave, you’re honorable, you’re loyal, you’re smart. My brother told me that you were the only man he knew who wouldn’t be intimidated by my mind. Do you know what it’s like to have to use small words and pretend not to understand things so you don’t get a bad reputation?”

  Logan wasn’t sure he understood. Surely women never had to pretend not to be stupid. Did they?

  “When I found out I was marrying you,” Jenine said, “it felt like all my little-girl dreams were coming true. Even with my father behaving like—and Serah—and Aleine…” She took a deep breath. “I’m sorry, my lord husband. You’ve been honest with me. I know you didn’t ask for this. I’m sorry you had to lose her so I could have you. I know you’ve had a lot of bad surprises recently.” Her chin raised and she spoke like a princess. “But I’m going to do all I can to be a good surprise, my lord. I’m going to strive to be worthy of your love.”

  By the gods, what a woman! Logan had looked at Jenine last night and seen breasts. He had seen her giggling with her friends and seen a child. He was a fool. Jenine Gunder—Jenine Gyre—was a princess born to be a queen. Her poise, her deliberate self-sacrifice, her strength awed him. He had hoped his wife might grow to become a good match for him. Now, he hoped that he might grow to become a match for this woman.

  “And I’ll do all I can to make our love grow, Jenine,” Logan said. “I just—”

  She put a finger on his lips. “Will you call me Jeni?”

  “Jeni?” Logan touched the soft smooth skin of her cheek, and let his eyes roam over her body. I’m allowed to do this. I can do this. I should do this. “Jeni? May I kiss you?”

  She abruptly became an uncertain girl again, until their lips met. Then, even with all her hesitations, uncertainty, and naïveté,
to Logan she was all that was warm and soft and beautiful and loving in the world. She was all that was woman, and she was altogether lovely. His arms circled her and he pulled her close.

  Some minutes later, Logan pulled away from her on the bed, turning his head toward the door.

  “Don’t stop,” she said.

  Hob-nailed boots pounded up the stairs outside the door. Lots of boots.

  Not even pausing to pull on his clothes in the darkness, Logan rolled off Jenine and caught up his sword.

  54

  Regnus Gyre ducked back into a hallway as Brant Agon ran past with a dozen royal guards, and inexplicably, a few fat nobles.

  “Long live the king! To the prince!” one of them yelled.

  To the prince? The rumors must have been wrong then. Regnus had heard that Aleine Gunder had been murdered last night.

  Had the lord general been alone, Regnus would have called out to his old friend, but not with Vin Arturian there. Vin was duty-bound to arrest Regnus, and he would, even if he didn’t like it.

  There was shouting in the distance, toward the center of the castle, but Regnus couldn’t make out any words. Having so much happening that he didn’t understand made him anxious, but he could do nothing about whatever was happening elsewhere in the castle. He only had six men, none of them in armor. It had been hard enough to smuggle themselves in as servants and still bring swords. All he could hope to do was find Nalia and get her out of here.

  The queen’s chambers were on the second floor of the castle in the northeast quarter. Regnus and his men had been walking through the castle nonchalantly, in two groups of three, trying not to attract the servants’ attention, but now he gestured sharply. His men gathered around him, and he started jogging.

  They got to the queen’s chamber without running into a single servant or guard. It was unbelievably good luck. Against even a pair of royal guards, who would be armed and armored, Regnus and his unarmored men might all have died.

  Regnus pounded on the great door, and then opened it. A lady-in-waiting who’d been about to open the door fell back in surprise.

  “You!” she said. “Milady, run! Murderer!”

  Nalia Gunder was seated in a rocking chair, embroidery obviously untouched in her lap. She stood immediately, but waved the servant off. “Don’t be a fool. Begone.” Her two younger daughters, Alayna and Elise, both looked like they had been crying. They stood uncertainly, neither old enough to recognize Duke Gyre.

  “What are you doing here?” Queen Nalia asked. “How did you get here?”

  “Your life’s in danger. The man who attacked my estate last night has been hired to kill you tonight. Please, Nal—please, my queen.” He looked away.

  “My lord,” she said. It was how a queen might greet a favored vassal. It was also how a lady might address her husband. In those two words, Regnus heard her say, “I’ve never loved anyone but you.” “My lord,” she said again. “Regnus, I’ll go wherever you lead, but we can’t go without them. If I’m in danger, they are too.”

  “Your girls can come along.”

  “I mean Logan and Jenine. They wed this afternoon.”

  Long live the king! To the prince! The nobles’ brief cries suddenly made sense. They’d abbreviated it: The king is dead; long live the king. They meant long live the new king. The prince. Logan.

  King Gunder was dead. Logan was the new king.

  A better man would have had other thoughts first, Regnus knew—a better husband would have had other thoughts first—but his first thought was that Nalia’s husband was dead. The hateful little man who’d caused so much misery was gone; his own wife was gone, too. He and Nalia were both suddenly, miraculously freed from twenty-two years of bondage. Twenty-two years, and what he’d thought was a life sentence had suddenly been commuted.

  He’d consigned himself to the satisfactions of a proud father and an able commander, never believing that he’d have anything but marital agony to come home to. Now, happiness wasn’t just a dim possibility, it was here, one step away, beaming at him, eyes full of love. What a difference it would be to come home to Nalia, to share her home, her conversation, her life, her bed.

  If she would have him, he could marry Nalia. He would marry her.

  The other implications came to him more slowly. Logan was the new king? The genealogists would have nightmares if Regnus and Nalia had children. He didn’t care.

  He laughed aloud, his heart was so light. Then he stopped. Agon, the guards, and the nobles had been running to his son, armed with dinner knives.

  Logan was in danger. Those men had been running to save him. Logan was in danger, and Regnus had turned aside.

  There wasn’t time to explain everything, to tell Nalia that she was free, that Aleine was dead. Regnus had to act. He had no idea how much time they had left.

  “They’re in trouble! Follow me!” Regnus shouted, lifting his sword. “We—” something hot lanced through his back and then was gone.

  Regnus turned and rubbed his chest, irritated. He saw something black flit into the shadows as blood suddenly bloomed from one of his men’s throats. As if they were marionettes whose strings had been cut, his men fell one after another in rapid succession, dead. Regnus’s hand came away from his chest sticky.

  He looked down. Blood was spreading on the front of his tunic over his heart. He looked up at Nalia. The shadow was behind her, holding her. One black hand held her chin up, the other held the long thin short sword that had killed Regnus, but Nalia’s eyes were fixed on him and wide with horror.

  “Nalia,” he said. He dropped to his knees. His vision was going white. He tried to keep his eyes open, but then he realized his eyes were open, and it didn’t matter any more.

  Lord General Agon and his ragtag band of nobles and royal guards were not making good time. Through the centuries, the castle had undergone several expansions, and no simplifications. Twice the general’s men had been stopped by a locked door, argued the relative merits of hacking it down or going around, and decided to go another way.

  Now they ran down the last hallway to the north tower—the royal guards sprinting, Agon running, and several of the nobles wheezing their way down the long hall. The nobles had long since given up their earlier enthusiastic cries of “to the prince” and “long live King Gyre!” They were saving their breath now.

  Agon entered the tower’s antechamber to the sound of men cursing and beating at the door to the stairs.

  One of the royal guards, Colonel Gher, was standing at the entrance to the antechamber. “Hurry, my lords,” he urged the last two paunchy nobles.

  Scanning the room, Lord Agon let the younger, more athletic men attack the thick door to the stairs. The room wasn’t large, barely twenty feet square, sparsely furnished, with ceilings so high they were lost in the darkness, and just two doors: one to the stairs and one to the hall. There was no going around this door.

  Something wasn’t right. That the door was locked meant that the guards posted here had either been killed or subverted.

  Lord General Agon looked over his shoulder to where Colonel Gher was ushering the last nobles into the room. Agon pushed past Logan’s cousin, the fat lord lo-Gyre, and started to shout a warning, but before he could get a word out, Colonel Gher’s mailed fist caught him in the chin.

  Falling backward, Agon could only watch from the floor as Colonel Gher slammed the doors and threw the bolt.

  One of the royal guards threw his shoulder into the door an instant later, but it held, and a moment later, Agon heard the door being barred.

  “Trapped,” Lord Urwer said helpfully.

  For a moment, everyone in the room stopped. As the Lord General stood with the assistance of one of the royal guards, he could see the implications hitting the men.

  If they’d just been betrayed by one of their own, then the attempt on the prince’s life wasn’t isolated or poorly planned. Everything in the last few days had been orchestrated—from Prince Aleine’s death to their
own arrival at this dead end. Their odds of surviving weren’t good.

  “What do we do, sir?” one of the guards asked.

  “Get through that door,” Lord Agon said, pointing to the door guarding the stairs. It was probably too late. They would probably find enemy soldiers and dead royals up those stairs. But Agon had long ago learned not to waste time on the battlefield lamenting what you should have done, what you should have seen. Recriminations could come later, if there was a later.

  The guards had renewed their assault on the door when the twang-hiss of a crossbow bolt rang out.

  A royal guard went down, his mailed chest pierced as easily as if he’d been wearing silk. Agon cursed and stared around the room for murder holes in the walls. He could see none.

  The men looked around wildly, trying to guard against an enemy that attacked from nowhere.

  Twang-hiss. Another guard stumbled into his comrades and fell dead.

  Agon and the men looked up into the darkness. A low-hanging chandelier destroyed their chances of seeing beyond it. A low laugh echoed out of the gloom it hid.

  Guards and nobles alike scrambled for whatever cover they could find, but there was precious little to be had.

  One soldier rolled behind a thickly stuffed wing-backed chair. A noble tore a portrait of Sir Robin from a wall and held it before himself like a shield.

  “The door!” Agon barked, though his heart was clouding with despair. There was no way out. The man or men shooting them not only had numbers and traitors in the castle, they also knew the castle’s secrets. The paranoid King Hurlak had honeycombed his expansion of the castle with secret rooms and spy holes. Because he knew where they were, this assassin had merely to sit in place and murder them all. There was no way to stop him.

  Twang-hiss. The soldier sitting behind the great chair stiffened as the bolt tore through the chair’s back and penetrated his. The assassin was letting them know the hopelessness of their plight.

 
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